Our dear former president Nelson Mandela, national treasure, most beloved man, guided by example and showed us how to live together, peacefully and democratically, in this beautiful, complicated land.

Nelson Mandela led us out of the dark corridor of the past into a bright, light-filled home of a democratically free South Africa.

In this extract from Alf Kumalo’s re-released book, DECO pays tribute to the father of our nation, profiling the historical power of his humble home and how it would ultimately steer the course of our country’s future.

In 1945, when Jan Smuts was prime minister of South Africa, a nondescript, non-electrified, two-roomed house similar to many others in its part of Soweto was constructed at the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets in Orlando West and given the number 8115. It could have been anyone’s house, but it was not. This was the house where international statesman and South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, would live. In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela describes the house thus:

‘The house itself was identical to hundreds of others … It had the same standard tin roof, the same cement floor, a narrow kitchen, and a bucket toilet at the back.’

There was a cement sink, and curtains ‘ instead of doors ‘ separated the rooms. A red stoep, similar to that in many township houses of its kind, was the pride of the house but also torture for the female children as it had to be washed, polished and buffed to perfection to keep up with the neighbours. Having stayed with his wife Evelyn’s relatives upon first getting married, and then later moving to a small two-roomed municipal house across the bridge in Orlando East, Mandela was immensely proud about moving into the new house which, although still only two roomed, was bigger by comparison. ‘It was the very opposite of grand,‘ Mandela continues, ‘but it was my first true home of my own.’ The rent for the house was seventeen shillings and sixpence a month.

Little did he know then of the history that would be made in this house, both in his presence and in his absence.


‘First published in Elle Decoration Spring Issue 92